The Book Thief – Movie Review


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Every once in a while you watch a movie that speaks to you at multiple levels. To me, The Book Thief happened to be one such movie. Whether it was the fact that I had recently started voraciously reading books and enjoying the written word, or whether it was something about the setting of the story bang in the middle of WW-II, or whether it was the wonderfully heartwarming and courageous tale of Liesel Meminger (portrayed beautifully by young Sophie Nelisse), I don’t know what it was, but this movie just ended up moving me in more than one way.

Based on an eponymous novel authored by Markus Zusak, the story is set in Germany and begins in 1938 when the Nazi party is slowly gaining in popularity and the juggernaut started by Adolf Hitler is gathering momentum. It is in this hubris that Liesel comes into the family of the Hubermanns (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) and becomes a part of their lives.

The movie follows her story and talks about how she becomes friends with Rudy, the neighbor boy, the arrival of Max, a Jew who is sheltered by the family, her friendship with Max bonded by their common love for the written word, all the while reminding the viewers of the escalating tensions outside when England declares war with Germany and the subsequent bombing raids on their homes.

At the heart of it, this is a movie of Liesel growing up from an innocent, ignorant child to someone who loses her foster parents, her friends and yet surviving through the entire ordeal with nothing but her words to keep her company. This transition in her character is brought out very subtly and very effectively by the director without getting too soppy or mushy about her losses. In an extremely understated way, the director manages to effectively convey this entire growing up process of this little girl caught up in extraordinary circumstances beyond her control.

While I have seen a lot of war movies which highlight the futility of war and hatred in different ways, this one takes an entirely different approach to delivering the same message. It uses the eyes of a little girl, her innocence, her love for words, as a medium to deliver the message, and it does an awesome job of the same.

American Hustle – Movie Review


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In the swinging 70s, con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale in an extremely competent performance) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are running a reasonably successful loan scam with Sydney playing the role of British aristocrat “Lady Edith Greensley” to the hilt and ensuring that a lot of people succumb to the honey-trap routine. The duo are also involved romantically and things seem to be going on well with the exception of Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Irving’s wife and the mother of his son Danny, who absolutely refuses to divorce him and get on with his life.

BaleAdamsCooperOn the ‘professional front’ the duo then happens to be trapped themselves by FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, adding to his list of better performances) who makes them an offer. He tells them to collaborate with the bureau to line up four arrests in return for being let off scot free. Despite Sydney’s initial misgivings about the deal, both she and Irving are not really left with a choice. But she takes one critical decision which ends up impacting their lives in more than a few ways.

JRemOne of the targets that Richie chooses to trap is New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Remner, finally playing a role where he actually needs to emote). Despite protestations from his boss and Irving for targeting politicians, Richie goes ahead and devises a plan to entrap Carmine for accepting bribes. One thing leads to another and suddenly the stakes keep getting higher and higher, especially for Irving who happens to develop a decent friendship with Carmine and his wife.

JLawAs if the situation was not complicated enough, Rosalyn also gets herself entangled in this entire mess with Irving, Carmine and Sydney. At one point in time, the movie and its proceedings get to be so convoluted with too many things happening and all the characters flitting in an out playing their parts in the game. What I loved about this part of the movie was the continuous escalation of the tension due to the increasingly higher stakes involved for Irving, Sydney and Richie.

All this time, a subplot involving Richie developing a romantic interest for “Lady Edith” is also built up and we realize that Sydney has a separate agenda of her own in this regard as well. Her intentions in this regard are not quite that transparent and viewers are left wondering what exactly is running inside that pretty blonde head of hers. This and the developing situation with Richie’s grandiose plans to trap some big fish culminate in an awesome ending to this movie. In fact, to me, it was the ending that really ‘took the cake’ so to speak. Will not say anymore as that would amount to a ‘spoiler’.

Suffice to say that this movie is quite an enjoyable watch. Although some of the characters such as Rosalyn seem unnecessary at first, they end up adding to the already simmering pot of confused ‘black humor’ that this movie really is. Although I personally haven’t read a review of this movie which puts it in this genre, I thoroughly enjoyed the irony of the situation that almost all the important characters of this movie found themselves in at different points in time.

Also, a special mention must be made of the make up and styling departments of this film. Viewers can be left with no doubt that this is a movie set in the 70s and I personally couldn’t quite find anything out of place in terms of the make up, art direction and styling in the entire movie. All in all, a nice enjoyable watch.

Jack the Giant Slayer – Movie Review


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Even as I saw the trailer of “Jack the Giant Slayer” I knew that it was going to be one of those corny adaptations of a well know fairy tale, but what piqued my interest was the fact that it was Bryan Singer who was at the helm. Given his earlier filmography which included movies like the X-Men films, Superman Returns and Valkyrie, I decided to watch it, and also because I wanted some mindless entertainment after a series of quite serious movies.

GiantLeaderThe movie itself takes the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk quite a few miles further than originally intended to and creates a land of giants called Gantua between earth and the heavens. A king called Eric, the Great (Eric, the Terrible for the giants) uses black magic and the heart of a giant to forge a crown which is the only thing that controls the giants, and he uses this crown to banish the giants permanently to Gantua.

As luck would have it, centuries later, Jack a simple farm boy happens to come in possession of magic beans which when rooted creates these giant beanstalks using which the path from earth to Gantua is opened up. What ensues forms the crux of the movie.

EwanWhat I liked about the movie was the fact that it didn’t take itself too seriously at times, and in fact one of the actors, Ewan McGregor seems to be having so much fun in his role as the leader of the Guardians, the royal guards.

As expected, the princess of the kingdom Isabella falls in love with Jack who happens to rescue her not once, but twice from the giants during the course of the movie. And as is the norm with every fairy tale ending, they end up getting married and living happily ever after.

Nothing too serious or must-watch about this movie. Watch it if you are looking for mindless fun and suspension of disbelief kind of movies.

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All images in this post have been sourced from IMDB.

The Wolf Of Wall Street – Movie Review


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From the very first scene of the movie where Leonardo DiCaprio (voicing over as Jordan Belfort) states that his Ferrari was white and not red, and the car changes colors as it is changing lanes, you know you are in for a fun ride, and that is precisely what The Wolf Of Wall Street is, a fun caper kind of movie where Martin Scorsese, the director and DiCaprio take you on the wild ride that Jordan Belfort had for approximately a decade in the 1990s.

JonahHillThe premise of the movie is quite simple; Jordan Belfort is a stock broker who has the misfortune of the Black Monday of 1987 ensuring that his stock broking career never takes off. He therefore begins working at a small trading firm where he learns that the brokerage numbers on penny stocks are humungous and therefore decides to make a living peddling these stocks to customers. He is then joined by Donnie Azoff (played wonderfully well by Jonah Hill) and starts their own trading firm – Stratton Oakmont.

From humble beginnings, they go on to make millions of dollars of money and live a life of complete debauchery with parties, sex and drugs ruling their lives in and out of office. Hard-sell and raking in the moolah become Jordan’s credo in life and he soon also becomes addicted to cocaine and ludes (recreational drugs).

LeonardoHis flamboyance and quick rise in Wall Street circles put the FBI and other investigating agencies’ spotlight on him and soon he is being pursued relentlessly by them for various charges of financial and ethical misdemeanor as well as for criminal wrong-doing. How he manages to outwit them for the better part of a decade and how he goes deeper and deeper into his deranged lifestyle form the meat of this movie.

After having read Jordan Belfort’s wiki entry and his own personal website, I am more than convinced that Scorsese’s take on his book of the same name is very true to its subject matter. As Belfort himself testifies on various posts in his blog, he clearly understood that his actions were unethical and illegal, but they also didn’t hurt anybody, they were only ‘white collar crimes’ as they are termed today. Scorsese has taken the book, made it a fun to watch movie where although you understand that the protagonist is doing the wrong thing, you almost end up rooting for him, a bit like rooting for Frank Abignale in Catch Me If You Can (funnily enough played once again by DiCaprio).

MatthewWatch out for Matthew McConaughey’s wonderful little cameo as Mark Hanna, Belfort’s first boss and the one who actually kind of ‘guides’ him about the fact that a stock broker should never really worry about whether his clients make enough money or not as long as their brokerage and commissions keep flowing in. He also gently ‘highlights’ the fact that sex and drugs were the only recourse for a highly stressed out stock broker as well. The five odd mins that McConaughey appears on screen are hilarious, memorable and insightful, all at the same time.

Saving Mr. Banks – Movie Review


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Given that I had read quite a few reviews of “Saving Mr Banks” I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what I was going to watch – a movie which dealt with how Walt Disney convinced PL Travers to give him the movie rights of her famous novel ‘Mary Poppins’ with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson portraying these characters respectively. Given that both of them have delivered more than competent performances, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips [Link to review] more recently, I also anticipated them to have done the same with these roles as well. But I was in for a pleasant surprise.

TomHanksWhile the above paragraph is entirely true, the fact remains that most of the reviews forgot to mention about the strength of the plot of the movie itself. The fact that the director John Lee Hancock, used this movie to take us all on a walk down PL Travers’ troubled childhood and how Mary Poppins was a result of the same. Interspersed with her journey to Los Angeles where she is working with Disney’s script writers and song writers for the movie, Travers occasionally slips into memories and musings of her own childhood in Australia.

Colin Farrell, playing Travers Goff, her father, suffers from an alcohol problem and hence is not as good a husband or a father as he would like to be. He however dotes on Helen Goff (PL Travers’ maiden name), his eldest daughter and keeps encouraging her imagination and keeps telling her never to lose the same to the vagaries and harsh realities of life. All of these incidents in her childhood end up in PL Travers coming up with the character of Mr Banks who is modeled on her own father and Mary Poppins as the governess to the Bankses.

It takes a sudden emotional outburst during one of her sittings with the script writers for Walt Disney to figure out that Mary Poppins is more than just another story that she had written, but was based on her own childhood experiences. And the scene in which Walt Disney flies over to London and meets Travers at her home to talk to her and finally try convincing her to give him the rights to make the movie is probably the best example of what wonderful actors both Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are.

EmmaThompsonThe movie is almost entirely owned by Emma Thompson who pretty much brings PL Travers’ myriad of emotions alive on screen and the role provides her with enough opportunity to showcase the excesses of acting talent that she possesses. Tom Hanks plays a reasonably extended supporting role at best, but shines through in whatever scene he is present at. He successfully manages to portray the shrewd businessman, showman, and sensitive character that Walt Disney really was.

If not for anything else, watch this bittersweet movie just to enjoy the lovely acting talents of this wonderful duo. Don’t go in expecting too many things from this movie apart from that though.

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All images in this post have been sourced from IMDB.